There but before the grace of God go I. It is a phrase that has been so overused throughout the ages, it seems that we, as a people, have lost sight of the true meaning of the phrase. First of all, the phrase has been distorted. The original phrase was "There but before the grace of God, goes John Bradford." Bradford, who of course coined the phrase, was an ordained roving chaplain in England during the 16th century. He first uttered said words while imprisoned in the Tower of London, when he saw a criminal going to execution for his crimes. In the first month of the reign of Mary Tudor (affectionately known as "Bloody Mary"), Bradford, who had become somewhat well known for his devotion to his religion, was arrested and imprisoned on a trivial charge of "trying to stir up a mob", when he had in fact been trying to save a Catholic preacher named Bourne from a Protestant mob. He would never be a free man again. The phrase he famously stated refers to the distinct possibility that, if only a bare few occurrences had been different, our own reality would have walked the same path as that which we are so prone to judge. As for my own identification, I am painfully aware of the level to which I am prone to separate myself from the human race. For the majority of my life I was prone to putting all individuals either above me or below me. There were those who had something I wanted (wealth, popularity, power, prestige, wisdom, beauty), whom I would vigilantly seek as companions; and then there were those who I deemed below me and to whom I would not give the time of day. Unconscious of these patterns, I wondered why I felt so lonely in the world. I had plenty of friends and loved ones and yet, even among them, there was an overwhelming sense of desolation. I could not see that I had orchestrated my situation. For if all people fell into categories that place them "above me" or "below me," it would follow that there was no one "like me." I suppose this is why I often felt misunderstood. I had a severe case of "terminal uniqueness." At my core, I believed that I had this singular case of wreckage that no one could possibly wrap their brain around. What, then, did I require to genuinely join the human race? Once again, we are brought back to spiritual practice. Through opening up to a greater power, I was able to fearlessly allow myself to become a person among people. Being a person among people means that one intrinsically understands that they are no better or no worse than any of their fellows. I assure you that, at least for me, this is easier said than done. It was not a shift accomplished through thought. It happened in response to action; more often than not, action that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Often, it still requires the willingness to be uncomfortable. Not too long ago, I was watching a news story about a pedophile that had recently been apprehended. This person had kidnapped, raped and killed at least six children that the police were aware of. As I watched in horror, I was overcome with thoughts about my two little girls (Sydney is 4 and Ryan is 1); I felt scared and vulnerable. I didn't like that feeling. Within moments, I found myself fantasizing about horrible ways in which this mans life could be taken. This made me more comfortable. The hatred dissipated the fear. Interesting. I have enough experience to know that the most effective road out of fear is faith. And yet, I retreated to my old friend anger, the cheapest and easiest of human emotions. The easiest thing for me to do in that moment of fear was to make myself different than the perpetrator. "He's an animal," I thought to myself; "He's inhuman." And herein lies the conflict. Becoming a person among people (just one of God's children) has been the road to self-love for me. With that grace, though, comes responsibility. I cannot apply the idea that we are all the same only when it suits me, and expect to reap the results I seek. I need to do it even when it feels distasteful; if not excruciating. What I don't want to look at is the truth; that I am him; and he is me. Does this mean that I have the longing to abuse children; of course not. Although, can I really say that an action like that is an absolute impossibility in my life? Not if I am going to choose to be honest with myself and with God. We are all made with good and evil within us. Which of these we manifest more of, is a result of so many factors; environment, upbringing, input, conditioning, heartbreak, pain, etc. Ask yourself: have you ever had the experience of doing something that you never believed you would or could do? As a recovered alcoholic, I have spent many an evening in a blackout, with zero recollection of my words and actions the following morning. How can I possibly know what I am capable of? And so we are brought back to Mr. Bradford. There but before the Grace of God goes Michael Mark. Can we love the man, but hate what he did? Boy, that's a tall order. It may seem like the result of finding commonality with a pedophile, could bring only discomfort. In the short term, perhaps. Ultimately, though, it has brought me freedom. Remember, the level to which we fear being judged is in direct proportion to the level to which we judge others. I spent so many years making primarily feared based decisions, driven by what those around me might think. I was blind to the fact that it was my own judgments of others creating this fear. I have seen that as I move further and further away from judging the actions (even the most heinous) of those about me, I gain the blessing of being able to move freely through my life, making decisions based solely on the longings and desires of my heart. The people-pleasing, the co-dependency, the self-loathing, the self-flagellation; we are doing it to ourselves. If this is true, why do we continue to live in judgment? Because it feels safe. If we constantly judge, we never have to open up; we never have to be vulnerable; "I'll judge you, before you can judge me." Perhaps my very favorite saying is this: "True spiritual growth is all but impossible without at least a temporary surrender of security." Let's be willing to surrender security for the good of our lives. Let's manifest the courage to choose a different perspective. Let's stop living our lives in perpetual defense. Mr. Bradford did it from behind iron bars; and was consequently more of a free man than many who think they are free. Are you free?
God bless you,